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CORRECTED-UPDATE 2-One dead, scores hurt in protests over delayed Honduran vote count
December 1, 2017 / 8:49 PM / 13 days ago

CORRECTED-UPDATE 2-One dead, scores hurt in protests over delayed Honduran vote count

(Corrects to ballot boxes, not ballots, in 3rd paragraph)

By Gabriel Stargardter and Gustavo Palencia

TEGUCIGALPA, Dec 1 (Reuters) - At least one protester died and more than 20 people were injured in Honduras after a delayed presidential vote count sparked unrest amid opposition accusations of electoral fraud.

Honduras will publish the final result of last Sunday’s presidential election at 9 p.m. (0300 GMT) on Friday, said the head of the country’s electoral tribunal, David Matamoros.

The electoral court will hand-count some 1,031 outstanding ballot boxes, or roughly 6 percent of the total, that had irregularities, Matamoros said.

Election results initially favored opposition candidate and TV star Salvador Nasralla by five points with half the votes counted. They then swung in favor of U.S.-backed President Juan Orlando Hernandez after the count came to a halt on Monday and resumed over a day later.

With the regular ballot count completed, Hernandez, of the center-right National Party, had a lead of fewer than 50,000 votes.

Luis Larach, president of business lobby COHEP, told Reuters that the slim, 1.5 percentage point difference between the candidates, meant the hand-count would be crucial.

“For me, it’s still up in the air,” he said.

International concern has grown about the electoral crisis in the poor Central American country, which struggles with violent drug gangs and one of the world’s highest murder rates.

Police sources said at least one man had been shot and killed at a protest in the city of La Ceiba, while about 12 members of the military and police force had been injured in demonstrations which snarled traffic outside Honduras’ main port on Friday and around the country.

At least 10 protesters were injured in the capital of Tegucigalpa, according to the city’s Hospital Escuela.

Military officials called for peaceful protests after police reports of looting in the capital and other cities.

In the country’s second biggest city of San Pedro Sula, thick plumes of black smoke clouded the air as protesters burned tires and police tried to disperse the crowds with tear gas.

People flocked to supermarkets on Friday, stocking up on food and provisions as major roads and supply routes were blocked across the country by angry protesters.

Lines appeared outside gas stations and ATMs. Banks clogged up with people seeking to take out or deposit money.

“SERIOUS DOUBTS”

Both Hernandez and Nasralla, a television game show host allied with leftists, claimed victory after the election, and the challenger has said he will not accept the tribunal’s result because of doubts over the counting process.

Leading a center-left alliance, the 64-year-old Nasralla is one of Honduras’ best-known faces and backed by former President Manuel Zelaya, a leftist ousted in a coup in 2009.

Zelaya weighed into the debate on Thursday in a letter in which he accused the tribunal of “electoral crimes” on behalf of Hernandez, who himself was standing for re-election enabled by a contentious 2015 Supreme Court ruling.

One of the four magistrates on the electoral tribunal on Thursday flagged “serious doubts” about the process.

The Organization of American States (OAS) on Wednesday convinced both candidates to vow to respect the final result once disputed votes had been checked.

But a few hours later Nasralla rejected the OAS accord, saying his opponents were trying to rob him. He urged supporters to take to the streets in protest. (Editing by Michael Perry and Andrew Hay)

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